SAN FRANCISCO — A federal appeals court on Friday reversed itself and now says the heirs of Armenians killed in the Turkish Ottoman Empire can seek payment from companies that sold their relatives life insurance.
The 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco said a California law labeling the killings as a "genocide" does not conflict with US foreign policy, which the court said is unsettled on the issue.
The ruling was 2-1, the same vote the same judicial panel came to last year when it struck down the California law empowering the heirs to sue companies that sold life insurance policies to Armenians killed in Ottoman-era Turkey during World War I.
Last year, the same panel concluded that the US government has sided with the Turkish government and formally taken the position against labeling the killings as a genocide. Therefore, that panel concluded, California's calling the event a genocide conflicted with US foreign policy, making the state law invalid.
But in a rare and stunning move on Friday, Judge Dorothy Nelson changed her mind and sided with Judge Harry Pregerson, which turned his 2009 dissenting opinion into law.
"We conclude that there is no express federal policy forbidding states to use the term 'Armenian Genocide,'" Pregerson wrote.